Last week, Ohio State received a major surprise when defensive line coach Mike Vrabel bolted for the NFL. In just three seasons as a Buckeye assistant, Vrabel built a strong rapport with recruits and became one of the top recruiters in the Big Ten. His loss was significantly lessened with the hire of longtime Penn State assistant Larry Johnson Sr.
Johnson was named assistant head coach and defensive line coach for the Buckeyes Wednesday afternoon.
“In just a few hours I can tell that Ohio State cares about football,” Johnson said in a statement. “There is a winning tradition that is important here. They care about academics and they care about players, and I like the way Coach Urban Meyer approaches things. He’s a great teacher. He is very organized and this is what I was looking for.
“And I am really impressed with the Ohio State players. I just met a group of players, walked out of the room and thought, ‘wow,’ these are the kinds of players I want to coach. They were really impressive.”
Johnson’s spent all 18 seasons of his college coaching career at Penn State, where he was the last link to the Joe Paterno era until he opted not to accept a position on James Franklin’s staff. Johnson was the defensive ends/special teams coach from 1996-99 and the defensive line coach the past 14 seasons.
During his time in State College, Johnson quickly evolved into one of the sport’s most respected figures – on and off the field. His ability to connect with prospects has made him one of the top recruiters in the country. In 2006, Rivals.com named Johnson its recruiter of the year.
“I am very pleased that Larry Johnson is an Ohio State Buckeye,” Ohio State coach Urban Meyer said. “I have great respect for him as a family man, as a coach and mentor of young men, and as a recruiter. He is an outstanding addition to our coaching staff.”
Johnson coached seven first-team All-Americans at Penn State, including first-round draft picks Courtney Brown (No. 1 overall), Tamba Hali, Jared Odrick, Michael Haynes, Aaron Maybin and Jimmy Kennedy. Fifteen defensive linemen earned first-team all-conference honors under Johnson.
In recent seasons, Johnson turned down two offers to be a defensive coordinator elsewhere. In 2008, Illinois offered him the defensive coordinator position, which would have doubled his salary. He said no again in 2011, this time to be Maryland.
It was reported that Johnson was frustrated after being passed over twice for the head-coaching job, leading to his departure from Penn State.
|2014||Ohio State||Assistant Head Coach/Defensive Line|
|2000-13||Penn State||Defensive Line|
|1996-99||Penn State||Defensive Ends/Special teams|
|1992-93||T.C. Williams H.S.||Head Coach|
|1975-91||McDonough H.S.||Head Coach|
|1974||Lackey H.S.||Assistant Coach|
“Getting promoted isn’t the issue to me,” Johnson told ESPN.com. “At the end of the day, it’s giving Coach Franklin the chance to move forward. It’s his program, his coaching staff and, yes, he offered me the opportunity to stay.
“But at the end of the day, I thought what would be best for me – and be unselfish – is the fact that let’s move forward. That’s my decision. It had nothing do with a job, or not giving me a promotion.”
In the 1970s, 80s and 90s, Johnson spent a combined 19 seasons as head coach at Maurice J. McDonough High School and T.C. Williams High School in suburban Washington, D.C. He was a six-time coach of the year in the nation's capital and won three state championships. The Greater Washington area is one of Johnson’s strongholds in recruiting.
At Ohio State, Johnson will coach two players he recruited heavily: Tommy Schutt and Noah Spence.
One current Buckeye who was recruited by Johnson was asked if he was happy with the hiring, and answered, “Yeah, absolutely.”
“I’m a relationship guy and I think in order to get the best out of your players you have to develop relationships,” Johnson said. “I’m also a teacher. I like to teach the basic fundamentals of football. I want guys who are fundamentally sound and have the ability to play fast and to play relentless.”